|The Davis Enterprise: May 22, 2009
Davis Bicycles! column #18
Title: Why don’t more Davis High students bicycle to school?
Lately, Ive been spending much of my work time either in meetings about the obesity epidemic or in meetings about the climate change crisis. The glimmer of hope in these otherwise rather depressing meetings is the common solution to both problems: what were now calling active travel, namely walking and bicycling and other self-propelled modes of transportation.
If we could get people to walk and bicycle more, obesity would likely go down, as would emissions of greenhouse gases. But we know, from research by me and others, that active travel doesnt happen if the environment doesnt support it. By environment, I mean both the physical environment, i.e., the layout and design of the community, and the social environment, i.e., the prevalent attitudes within the community.
Invariably in these meetings, I start thinking about Davis. How lucky I am to live in a place that is so supportive of bicycling. Davis has an environment that makes bicycling a pleasure and quite often a greater convenience than driving. Being able to bicycle for most of my in-town needs is a huge part of my quality of life.
But then I turn to the big question: If the environment here is so good, why arent more people bicycling and bicycling more often?
As a faculty member at UC Davis, Ive been doing research on this question with my students for a few years now. Some of you may have responded to an online survey we did a few years ago, or to one of the surveys weve done at AYSO soccer games (if so, thank you again!). Today I want to talk about our most recent survey, of students at Davis High.
How high school students get to and from campus is an important question for several reasons. Physical activity levels drop off as kids get older, particularly for girls. High school is also, of course, the time when kids transition from car passengers to car drivers. And the habits that they develop as teenagers often stay with them as adults. So if we could get kids to bicycle to school more, they would be better off now and later, as would the rest of us.
On April 1, with much help from science teacher Sherri Sandberg and students in the Environmental Club, we surveyed students at Davis High (including Da Vinci High on the main campus). The survey asked students to report how they get to and from school, and it asked them about a bunch of factors that might influence whether they bicycle to school or not.
Here are our preliminary and still-subject-to-change results: 35 percent of students are driven to the high school, 29 percent drive themselves to school, 26 percent bicycle, 5 percent walk, 4 percent take the bus, and the last 1 percent do something else (surprisingly few students, I should note, reported donkey or other equally unlikely modes). Granted, this is far more bicycling than the average suburban high school, but couldnt it be more?
Although we have just started our analysis, several things jump out of the data. Students who bicycle are more likely feel confident in their bicycling ability and say that they like to bicycle. They are more likely to say that there is a safe route from home to school and that they dont live too far from school to bicycle. They say their parents encourage them to bicycle and their parents themselves bicycle.
In contrast, students who drive or are driven to school say that they have lots of stuff to carry. They dont like wearing helmets, they dont like bicycling in bad weather, and the clothes they wear make it hard to bicycle. They think driving is the coolest way to get to school, and they worry more about what their peers think of them if they bicycle to school.
All this tells me that, if we want high school students to bicycle more, we need to make the bicycling environment in Davis even better than it is. But it also tells me that we need to change the way kids and their parents think about bicycling. Challenging? Yes. Impossible? No. Worth an increased effort on the part of city officials and community members alike? Definitely.
| Susan Handy has been happily bicycling with her family in Davis since 2002. She’s the director of the Sustainable Transportation Center at UC Davis.||How to help
Who: Davis Bicycles! School Committee, PTA representatives and any interested local residents
What: Meeting to plan fall campaign to boost biking to elementary schools
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 27
Where: Blanchard Room, Stephens Branch Library, 315 E. 14th St., Davis
RSVP: Christal Waters, (530) 756-7006